Linux Certifications: Should You Go for Nonprofit or Big Company Ones?

Multiple vendors offer Linux certifications. If you’re interested in landing one of these certifications, you need to start by asking some core questions: Why do you want to become certified? And which programs will meet those specific needs?

Enterprise-level companies such as Red Hat, Oracle, and Ubuntu offer certification courses for their unique variations on the Linux operating system. Alternately, there are certifications from nonprofits such as the Linux Foundation and the Linux Professional Institute (as well as CompTIA) that test on multiple Linux distributions (their objective is to share, develop, and promote the opensource Linux community).

Cara Nolte, training architect at A Cloud Guru, notes there are pros and cons to both types—vendor-created certs go deeper into specific distributions, but the nonprofit certs test your breadth and depth of general Linux knowledge across multiple distros.

Red Hat

From her perspective, Red Hat offers an “amazing” set of certifications, including the Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA), the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RCHE) and Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA). Let’s break down how a key Red Hat certification works:

“You need to pass one exam to obtain the RHCSA and an additional one to obtain the [Red Hat Certified Engineer] RHCE, and then your choice of one architect level exam based on your technical track of interest,” Nolte explains.

These exams are hands-on and cover a wide range of systems configuration, maintenance tasks, and services and packages that expand your depth and breadth of knowledge across multiple technologies.

In these exams, you must configure a server or multiple servers with all the requested services and packages. Those servers must start and operate as instructed after a reboot to pass the exam. “We all know that one wrong character in the wrong configuration file can keep a server from booting, so this hands-on configuration approach is why Red Hat certifications are some of the most respected certifications in the industry,” Nolte says.

Linux Professional Institute

The Linux Professional Institute has a three-level certification that consists of 9 exams total–applicants required to pass two exams for the LPIC-1 and another two exams to pass the LPIC-2.

Additionally, applicants must pass one of four LPIC-3 certifications to acquire an LPIC-3 certification, so each level builds on the prior one. Here are some key certifications:

The LPIC series covers server configuration, administration and multiple services and packages including file systems, networking, processes and performance, and security. It also touches on NSS, PAM, SSSD, BIND DNS, Network File Server, Samba, Apache, NGINX, FreeIPA Identity Management, OpenLDAP, email services, FTP, and Active Directory. (LPIC exams are multiple-choice, and aren’t quite as hands-on as the Red Hat exams.)

“The LPIC certifications last five years, so that is plenty of time to stay up to date on technology,” Nolte says. She also recommends getting at least one certification on a specific Linux distribution from a vendor, as it’s beneficial to obtain a certification to deep dive into one distro and show that you possess the skills necessary for that specific Linux distribution.

“I prefer Red Hat certifications which last three years,” she explains. “I have obtained the RHCSA and the RHCE, but there are multiple providers to choose from based on your own preference.”

Nolte says she would recommend that Linux pros get one of each of the two different types of certification: vendor-specific certs and nonprofit certs: “First, I recommend obtaining a certification that shows you possess general Linux skills and knowledge across multiple services, packages, and distributions.”

Whatever their choice, Linux learners should be happy to have obtained a certification that proves that they possess the skills necessary to work with the top operating systems and applications in tech. “Certifications are an amazing asset as they demonstrate proficiency on a Linux distribution,” Nolte says. “They show that you can learn, adapt, and excel at current technologies. It also proves that you have the skill set necessary to build, admin, and support some of the most complex computing environments in the world.”

Some of the most sought-after companies are now requiring certifications from potential Linux candidates to prove that they can do what they say they can do. “Certifications indicate an eagerness to learn and grow with the technologies that are being used, and the path to certification tests your knowledge of the tasks that administrators should be able to perform,” Nolte adds.